These fun, reliable cars are being reshaped as a premium brand.
You might do a double take, which is often the start of infatuation: Something catches your eye, a line, a shape, a color; it grabs your breath, distracts your mind. You look again, your heartbeat races and dopamine flows.
That’s Mazda’s goal.
The brand that captured the hearts of drivers by delivering on its ‘Zoom-Zoom’ promise is being reshaped to capture your heart, too. In addition to a fun drive experience, Mazda is outfitting its models with luxurious touches such as leather seating, a refined design and top safety features. The first model to get the upgrades is the family-focused CX-9, a three row crossover, which, of course, we think is a smart move.
Hiroshima is now on my travel bucket list
Yes, that Hiroshima. The city that was infamously devastated by the atomic bomb during World War II has gloriously risen to be a lush, vibrant and modern city, surrounded by water and mountains and known for its peace-themed parks, food and sake. It’s also the home of Mazda. “Being from Hiroshima has defined our culture,” said Bob Pan, head of US Business Strategy for Mazda. After the devastation, residents had to rebuild and “never stopped challenging ourselves. We had the spirit to compete against other companies.” This is what has driven Mazda’s success.
Philosophies that define Mazda: Soul, Joy, Unity
The Mazda culture found root in several Japanese philosophies that shaped the brand: “Kodo” or the soul of motion, has long defined Mazda’s exterior design approach. The idea is that “if things are handmade, they have a soul, and the energy that created it will strengthen it,” said Jacques Flynn, Mazda’s lead designer.
Mazda takes the Kodo idea a bit further with enhanced sound engineering. “Music is the sound track of your drive,” explained Matt Valbuena, infotainment engineer for Mazda. So the company studied popular artists and trends and worked with Bose to engineer a system that brilliantly reproduces even the most difficult, complex music so it sounds and feels rich.
Driving should be a joy, not a chore
Kodo is paired with “Hashiru Yorokobi,” or the joy of driving, which has long been Mazda’s point of differentiation. The brand started out in the 1930s building trucks and then small family cars, but found that building performance cars helped to refine the everyday experience as well as push the company’s technology. Mazda’s responsive engines, suspensions and steering make the driver feel one with the road, from the CX-9 to the more popular roadsters, the MX5 convertible and the Mazda 3.
Form and function unify to move your heart
Mazda adds a third philosophy to the mission in “Jinba Ittai,” which is defining Mazda’s future: This is where form and function join to move not just the car, but your heart.
Taken literally, Jinba Ittai describes the unity of horse and rider, a fit so perfect that they move as one. This idea plays out in Mazda’s redesigned interiors, designed so that:
- Controls are within easy, natural reach of the driver
- Information is displayed in natural places so you don’t need to take your eyes from the road to search for it
- The driver’s seat and controls are in perfect balance, (your left and right arms are perfectly aligned as you drive, for instance)
- The infotainment controller dial is literally at your fingertips so you don’t have to lean toward the dash to search and select
- The information screen is sized to not be overly intrusive (it’s on the smaller side) and positioned so you don’t have to refocus your eyes when glancing away from the road
- Seats and head room allow all passengers to feel comfortable and relaxed, rather than cramped and road weary, even after a long drive.
Jinba Ittai also inspired Mazda’s designers to rid their cars of ‘visual noise’ or awkward details that disrupt the experience, such as door panels that don’t align or finish materials that gap at the edges.
This old Japanese soul inspires modern luxury
These three ideas are the foundation of Mazda’s move to become a premium car brand.
OK, leather covered everything and heated seats are ubiquitous for premium cars these days—you expect that. But what else factors into Mazda’s premium strategy? Starting with the CX-9, customers will find the already popular drive experience paired with luxury features. The list of features in the CX-9 Signature trim (priced at $45,000) include:
- Head up display via installed projector system (versus the projector screen in their other models)
- Rosewood trim
- Rain sensing wipers
- Bose surround sound system
- Top safety features including blind spot monitor, lane departure warning, predictive braking and adaptive cruise control
- Center console dial infotainment control
- Ambient interior lighting
- Power lift gate with programmable height adjustment
- Center row USB charge ports
Premium features will soon be standard in every model
The upgraded CX-5 will be unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November and be followed soon with the rollout of the MX-5 RF hardtop convertible—Mazda’s lustiest design ever. But expect the full line of sporty hatchbacks (Mazda 3), elegant sedans (Mazda 3 and 6) and compact crossovers (CX-3) to follow suit soon.
Disclosure: I was Mazda’s guest at Palmetto Bluffs for the full line drive; transportation and accommodations were provided but opinions are all my own.